- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Capt John and his son Hendry Summers
- Location of story:
- DD Landing
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 24 January 2004
My grandfather, Captain John Summers, was the master of the MV Dawlish, a coastal vessel requisitioned for use in the landings. In 1944, he was 70, and my grandmother insisted that one of his sons (all merchant seamen) sail with him. My dad, Hendry Summers, volunteered.
They sailed from the south coast (Littlehampton, we believe) and arrived on the beaches on D-Day+2 (8 June). Grandad was told by the beach master to unload his cargo ‘as close in as possible’ and joked that it would be preferable to have it ‘a few fields back’.
Dad was ship’s cook. He told many tales of exchanging food, mainly with Americans, and bartering other supplies.
We understand that they made several passages between England and France. At some point they were asked to negotiate the Caen Canal. This was a difficult task as a boat had been sunk close to its entrance.
However, Grandad, we were told, undertook a fantastic piece of seamanship. Using winches, he manoeuvred the Dawlish around the obstruction. They were the first vessel to sail up the canal.
Grandad was subsequently interviewed by the BBC, when it was claimed that, at the age of 70, he was the oldest man in the invasion.
Ran into a storm
On their final run home, they hit a huge storm on the Channel Islands’ side of the Cherbourg peninsula. The storm lasted hours, and as a result they were going full steam ahead but only maintaining their position.
Grandad said the boat was old and was ‘popping rivets’. It was not strong enough to see out the storm. He made a decision therefore to cross the unswept Channel.
Dad was on watch, and all doors were put on catch. All the men were given a life jacket, and they turned the ship for home. Unbeknown to them at the time, they were followed by two other ships.
We believe they sailed into Plymouth, where Grandad was reported to the authorities for crossing an unswept mine field. He was threatened with a Board of Enquiry. However, he declared that, at 70, he never intended to go back to sea, so they could do as they wished.
Eventually, though, all charges were dropped. The captains of the two, following vessels explained that Grandad had ‘saved their lives and those of their crews by guiding them through a minefield’.
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